January/February 2011

Control System Integrators Association shares strategies for successful system automation

By Robert Lowe and Ann Massie Nelson

control1Welcome to the first in a series of columns written by members of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) for the readers of InTech. This first article provides a background and principals for the CSIA organization. During the months ahead, you will hear primarily from integrator members as they describe specific ways to improve the success and lower the risk of system automation. Lowered risk is to the benefit of integrators and end users.

With members in 25 countries, CSIA is the largest professional association of independent control system integrators. CSIA's primary mission is to help control system integrators attain a level of business excellence that complements their technical expertise and provides the foundation for top quality service and long-term success.

A primary focus of the organization is the continuous improvement of the CSIA Best Practices and Benchmarks manual. This manual forms the basis of the CSIA certification, achieved by passing a rigorous, independent audit covering 76 audit criteria in eight sections:

  • General Management
  • Human Resources Management
  • Marketing, Business Development, Sales Management
  • Financial Management
  • Project Management
  • System Development Life cycle (design reviews, assembly standards, FAT, SAT)
  • Supporting Activities (CAD standards, reuse library)
  • Quality Assurance Management

CSIA also provides an industry-specific forum for control system integrators to network, train, discuss common issues, purchase insurance, gather control system integrator industry statistics, and share best practices. An annual executive conference and a private online community are the primary mechanisms to implement this forum.

Two types of members

There are two categories of membership in CSIA-integrators and partners. Our integrator members focus on industrial control systems, manufacturing execution systems, and plant automation. Integrators have the application knowledge and technical expertise for sales, design, implementation, installation, commissioning, and support. Clients or "end users" of integrator members include manufacturers, water and waste water facilities, oil and gas companies, entertainment companies, and other types of facilities.

Partner members are manufacturers of industrial automation and control hardware and software products. By aligning their businesses with top system integrators, partners achieve a low-risk channel for the application of their products. Partner members also have opportunities to educate integrators about key business and technical topics, as well as about their products.

A monthly column

Here are potential column topics categorized by some of the sections of the CSIA Best Practices manual. Mixed in will be some technology ideas and application stories.

General management topics include strategic planning, disaster recovery plans, and computer and network security including backup procedures, key business and project performance indicators, subcontractor relationships, and business insurance.

Good financial management is critical for long-term success. GAAP-compliant financial controls, financial planning and budgets, financial key performance indicators are established and monitored, cash flow forecasting, tax management processes and work-in-process are possible topics.

Fundamentally, project management is the application of specific processes and disciplines to ensure a project meets its stated objectives in terms of scope, performance, schedule, and cost. Probable project management topics are contract management, procurement management, project management plans, project risk management plans, project resource management, scope management, and more.

System development life cycle activities are those directly involved in producing end-user deliverables within the context of a project. Topics may include user and system requirements, project kickoff methodology, system designs, project reviews, among others.

Quality assurance management is a set of defined procedures of an integrator, not just a culture. Topics that must be included in this critical internal program are quality systems for project methodologies, standards & templates, risk management, personnel safety, hard and soft skills training, client satisfaction, marketing, and business development.

To improve your integrator business, be sure to follow along as the months and years go by. If you want the information immediately, CSIA membership is for you. Although integrators are the target of this column, it will serve as an informative source for those that purchase integration services because you will learn what to look for in your integrator.


After having managed a CSI company for 18 years, Robert Lowe has been the executive director of CSIA for two years. You can reach him at execdir@controlsys.org. Ann Massie Nelson is CSIA's Communications and Website manager. Visit www.controlsys.org to learn more about CSIA.